Barber: Another Super Bowl collapse for Kyle Shanahan
MIAMI - They said Andy Reid couldn’t win the big one. The enduring coach ranks sixth all-time in total victories, but had never won an NFL championship. It was the monkey on his back.
Now the monkey has climbed to a different back. Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV on Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium. They did it by stunning the 49ers, taking a 20-10 San Francisco lead midway through the fourth quarter and spinning it into a 31-20 victory for the Chiefs.
For the second time in four years, Kyle Shanahan lost the Super Bowl. For the second time in four years, his team held a significant advantage, only to see it shatter into shards. The first time it happened, Shanahan was the Falcons offensive coordinator in Super Bowl LI; he wasn’t at the top of the food chain, but his play calling came under withering scrutiny.
This time is worse. This time Shanahan was play caller and clock manager and player motivator and fourth-down decision- maker for the losing team. The 49ers head coach now owns two simultaneous reputations. Shanahan is the brilliant diagrammer of football offense. And he is the man who can’t get his team to close out the biggest games.
Each will ride atop his shoulders until disproven.
What a crushing end to a triumphant week for Shanahan. He was unfailingly gracious during his endless, tedious media sessions in Miami. In particular, he shined while answering 28-3 questions. So many 28-3 questions. That was the lead his Falcons enjoyed in Super Bowl LI, before the Patriots came charging back to humiliate them.
It had been Shanahan’s worst hour, but he never flinched when describing his pain following that loss, and he remained calm but persuasive in walking reporters through his decisions that day.
And now the cycle begins anew. Shanahan will get 20-10 questions at his wrap-up session with the Bay Area media this week. And he’ll be buried in them if and when his team reaches the Super Bowl again.
Add up those two breakdowns, and you get this factoid, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: After the 10-minute mark of the 4th quarter, Shanahan’s teams were outscored a combined 46-0 (including overtime) in two Super Bowls.
It isn’t entirely fair to pin it on Shanahan, of course.
After the 49ers pounded Green Bay in the NFC championship game two weeks ago, I went back and watched Super Bowl LI from the 8:31 mark of the third quarter – the 28-3 mark. And I had to admit, Shanahan’s explanations made sense. People kill him for not running out the clock in that game. But there were circumstances, including early-down penalties, that begged for passing. The Falcons did run the ball a bit, they just didn’t do it well. And it was the Atlanta defense that truly collapsed that day as it attempted to close out Tom Brady.
Who knows, maybe a closer examination of the 49ers’ loss to the Chiefs will reveal that Shanahan was again the victim of circumstance. Clearly, there were other culprits Sunday night. Jimmy Garoppolo, so good for three quarters, missed wide-open Emmanuel Sanders near the goal in the fourth quarter. The San Francisco defensive backs, so good for three quarters (are you sensing a trend?), made inexplicable coverage errors in the most crucial moments.